Clarification: When I write, I don't prepare or organize my ideas, I just write what I would say if I was talking to you in person, so sometimes my blogs end up a little messy. I don't even proof-read what I write before posting it so you may find grammatical mistakes and poorly written sentences. Sometimes I'll read my blogs a day or two after publishing them and I may re-write things that weren't too clear and any embarrassing grammatical mistake. Also, English is not my first language, so I apologize if reading my blogs become a struggle. Of course, if this is the case, I would imagine you wouldn't continue reading.

Mar 30, 2013

Don't Make Assumptions About Assumptions

as·sump·tion [uh-suhmp-shuh n]
1. something taken for granted; a supposition: a correct assumption. Synonyms: presupposition; hypothesis, conjecture, guess, postulate, theory.

I've been accused of making assumptions many many times in the past by different people. I assume most of us have, but maybe I'm wrong. Perhaps it's a flaw I must correct, so I guess assuming most people are as flawed as myself would be wrong. Well then, let's make this right and let me ask you, the two or three people who may read this blog, has anyone gotten mad at you for making assumptions?

It appears to me that assumptions carry a bad connotation and the general consensus seems to be that assumptions should be avoided whenever possible. I'm assuming this, because I really don't know. However, I don't necessarily agree, in fact, I don't think assumptions are intrinsically bad (or good, for that matter), they are just natural processes that occur in rational thinking beings. I believe most, if not all conscious human beings, make assumptions all the time, perhaps even several times a day. I mean, we have to, unless we have access to absolute truth, which is not the case 98% of the time. If someone told me they possess this divine-like gift, I will instantly assume they are bullshitting me, but they are welcome to prove me wrong, as it would be cool to have a better source of information than Wikipedia or Snopes.

Think about this imaginary situation: a person you know just enough to consider a friend, and who has excellent references from anyone who knows him or her, tells you he or she is going on a vacation to another country and was wondering if you would be kind enough to lend him or her your digital camera. You think about it for a moment, you have a decent camera that costs $500, so the idea makes you a little uncomfortable, but for whatever reason you decide to trust this person and let them borrow it. They will only be gone for a few days and you won't need it in the immediate future, so why no? You also believe this person will take good care of it and you even go as far as to assume that if something bad happened to your camera, they will have the decency to replace it. And off they go, your friend and your camera. You didn't know that was the last time you'll ever see or hear from either of them. They're gone. Several days go by and you send this person emails, text messages, Facebook messages, and nothing. You call your friends and ask them if anyone has seen or heard from this person in the past few days, but no one has. You get that very uncomfortable gut feeling that you had been punked, but don't want to come to conclusions too soon. Weeks later, their Facebook profile is gone, their phone disconnected, and someone else has moved into their place. Fuck! That's it, you know it! This person is just a jerk who stole your camera. You're upset and feel like a dumbass for lending your camera to someone you didn't know well enough, but life goes on, so you comfort yourself saying that at least you learned a valuable life lesson, and all the bullshit that won't get you your camera back. Eventually you forget about it. Twenty years later, during a conversation with old friends you haven't seen in many years, you learn that the cocksucker asshole who stole your camera, and who's ass you're going to kick if you ever see again, actually died while on vacation, and was probably unable to find a pay phone in the afterlife to apologize for all the inconveniences their death may have caused you. Now you feel like the asshole. The end.

In that story you assumed something very wrong. You probably talked a lot of shit too, damaging the name of an innocent person. But was it wrong of you to assume those things? I don't think it was, not at all. In fact, not assuming that you were probably the victim of a theft at a certain point seems to be the flawed kind of reasoning to me. Even staying neutral makes no sense, and when I say neutral I don't mean not expressing your assumptions. Being all zen about it is not really being neutral if in your head you're thinking you were most likely robbed.

You can compare less extreme versions of my imaginary story to all kinds of situations in life. Assumptions are just conclusions we come up with with the information we have. Sometimes they are valid conclusions and sometimes they are not, regardless of whether these conclusions are correct or incorrect. Assumptions are pretty much necessary, and if the logic behind them adds up, then I don't think there's anything wrong about them. If making mistaken assumptions is wrong, then making correct assumptions is wrong as well, because what's allegedly wrong about them is not the end result, but the act of coming to a conclusion without having enough data to know the absolute truth, which is impossible most of the time. It's also unpractical trying to always gather enough data to be 100% sure of something.

Now, there is a bad side of assumptions, and in certain situations they could become agents of destruction, which is an important point I want to make. While assuming things is not wrong per se, equating our assumptions to the definitive truth is very wrong. We should always consider assumptions only as probable, and perhaps temporary, truths, leaving enough room for flawed reasoning and potential new data that could invalidate our assumptions at any given time. If you don't think that there's at least a tiny possibility that everything you know and believe in is wrong, chances are it's already wrong. It's extremely arrogant to think our thoughts are always true, regardless of how impeccable and flawless we think our reasoning is.

Whenever someone accuses me of assuming things, which sometimes it's also the "proof" I may not be a good friend or whatever, always triggers the thought "well, I'm not fucking brain-dead, of course I'm going to think that certain events or behaviors were probably caused by something that makes sense to me. Telling me that I'm assuming things is like telling me that I'm a thinking person. Just show me how my reasoning is wrong, or provide more information so I can have a better picture of the situation, jeez!" It's fine to let someone know they are assuming things, but don't turn it into the main issue of the situation, and stick with solving the original problem.

So, my final thoughts and suggestions, if you are assuming something, particularly if it's something negative about someone, let them know about your concerns without pointing fingers, or better yet, inquire about the situation. "Hey friend, the other day you told someone all these things, what exactly did you mean? I'm asking because it sounds to me like you were not talking nicely of me, and it hurt me a little, would you mind explaining?" You'll save yourself innumerable conflicts if you do this (if you're dealing with a mature and reasonable person). By doing this, you will also keep more friends for longer. If you're on the other side of the assumption, then try to understand where the miscommunication happened, and provide whatever information or clarification is needed. Don't make the mistake of considering anyone who confronts you as an enemy or a bad person, especially if you've known this person for a long time and for the most part, you've had a positive opinion about them. I don't know how many ruined friendships I've witnessed, and experienced myself, that were the results of simple miscommunications and/or strong inflexible, and often insecure personalities. It's kinda sad, ya know?

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